Listen, if you think waiting for Dorian to make up its mind was a tedious exercise in quiet desperation, try waiting for our politicians to do something about Florida’s other warm water crisis.
The same climate change-driven conditions that are conspiring to make hurricanes slower, more destructive and less predictable are also fueling the explosive growth of toxic algae in our lakes and rivers and red tides in our coastal waters.
“Florida waters are in trouble,” warns the Florida Conservation Coalition. “Across the state, point and non-point source pollution plague the quality of our rivers, springs, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters, and have created ecological, economic and health crises.”
And here’s the thing. Hurricanes may be here today and gone tomorrow. But our blue-green algae and red tide problems won’t blow away. They will only to get worse thanks to our failure to exercise stewardship over our most precious natural resource, the life-giving waters around us.
We know why this is happening. It’s neither an act of God nor the fickle finger of nature.
Let us count just some of the ways we have been turning our waters into algae factories.
More than a billion gallons of wastewater discharged into Tampa Bay in just four years.
South Florida, unable to handle its own sewage sludge, has been trucking it north, ostensibly to “fertilize” farmlands, but ultimately to turn the St. Johns River green.
The Big Ag retention basin formerly known as Lake Okeechobee continues to spew its filth west into the Caloosahatchee River and east into the St. Lucy.
The Indian River Lagoon is suffering the death of a thousand point sources – septic tanks, stormwater runoff, lawn fertilizer overuse and more.
When we hear the word “infrastructure,” we are conditioned to think roads and highways. But Florida’s algae crisis is very much a result of our failure to modernize sewage treatment systems, replace aging septic tanks, insist on more responsible agriculture practices and otherwise invest in water quality infrastructure.
Under the flimsy excuse of providing better hurricane evacuation routes Florida will spend billions for new toll highways which will only further abet the runaway growth and over development that is killing Florida’s environmental integrity.
But where is the funding to stop St. Petersburg from dumping a couple million gallons of poorly treated wastewater into the aquifer? Or to keep biosolids out of the St. Johns?
“Upgrading wastewater utilities and replacing or upgrading septic tanks in areas already impaired by excessive nutrient pollution will be an expensive but necessary undertaking for current and future generations of Floridians,” cautions the FCC.
How expensive. The coalition argues that Florida requires a sustained $1 billion to $2 billion a year investment in water quality infrastructure. That would mean septic tank replacement, upgrading aging sewage treatment facilities, imposing new “best management practices” on dairy and agricultural operations, cracking down on Florida’s green lawn fetish…for a start.
“This has been frustrating I know for a lot of people because it seems like we’ve been talking about this a long time,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said the other day, urging Floridians not to succumb to complacency while waiting for Dorian to move on.
Talk about complacency! Florida has been stewing in its own toxic juices for a long time and we’re still just talking about it.
Billions for toll roads and pennies for clean water?
The time for talk is over, Governor, and a new legislative session is near. We need less talk and more action.
(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)